Cluster explores invisible space
Artist's impression of the four Cluster spacecraft flying in formation.
Scientists have found that extreme solar activity drastically compresses the magnetosphere and modifies the composition of ions in the near-Earth environment. They are now challenged to model how these changes affect orbiting satellites, including the GPS system.
Under normal solar conditions, satellites orbit within the magnetosphere — the protective magnetic bubble carved out by Earth’s magnetic field. But when solar activity increases, the picture changes significantly: the magnetosphere gets compressed and particles get energized, exposing satellites to higher doses of radiation that can perturb signal reception. This is why monitoring and forecasting its impact on near-Earth space is becoming increasingly critical to safeguard daily life on Earth. One way to do this is by studying the physics of near-Earth space and observing the impact of such activity in time.
Credits: NASA/ ESA